Double albums are notoriously self-indulgent, even if they sometimes yield startling results. The four-sided format allows artists to stretch out and explore more experimental avenues in a way single LPs don’t, but there’s often enough fatty trash that one wonders why a consistent “single-album” wasn’t culled from the hit-or-miss creative process. Though a lucky few may be exempt from the stigma (The Beatles’ self-titled White Album; The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street), producing double albums nevertheless seems intimidating.

Stephen Stills’s 1972 double-album, Manassas, can be fairly billed as one of the more underrated records of the early ’70s — an era many consider the glory days of rock‘n’roll. Consisting of band leaders and principal songwriters Stills (Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) and Chris Hillman (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers), the band was a ragtag collection of session musicians who had played with either Hillman or Stills over the course of their careers. The seven musicians’ chemistry was so strong, however, that they even adopted Manassas as their band name after touring began in order to distance themselves from the notion that they were merely Stills’s backup players.

Manassas is technically billed as a Stephen Stills solo project, though it’s often tough to see where the group dynamic ends and Stills’s influence begins. With its freewheeling, off-the-cuff instrumentation, the record effectively captures a live-band feel: The unique blend of percussion, pedal steel, guitars and keyboards creates a sound rooted as much in traditional rock and country music as Latin and bluegrass. Stills’s childhood migration between Florida, Louisiana, Costa Rica and Panama has surely influenced his songwriting throughout his career, but this inclination toward diversity is particularly present here.

Perhaps in an attempt to focus on each influence individually, the album is comprised of four stylistically different sides, complete with their own titles: “The Raven” contains more Latin-tinged rock; “The Wilderness” is pure country and bluegrass; “Consider” is safer and more folk-inspired; “Rock & Roll Is Here To Stay” is Stills’s raunchy blues-rock at its finest. As a whole, these sides are not as rigidly separated as one might expect, and there is enough stylistic overlap to retain a cohesive session feel throughout.

Arguably the most engaging chunk is “The Raven,” which starts out the album with “Song of Love” using prominent Latin percussion and soulful keyboards. The “Rock and Roll Crazies/Cuban Bluegrass” medley comes next, with its shift from proto-blues to a full-swinging jam over the course of three and a half minutes, showing just how seamless the transition between blues and Latin-tinged rock can be. “Both Of Us” is as perfect a collaboration between Stills and Hillman as one could ever hope for, with the pair trading vocal leads until the song erupts into a full-on Latin jam showcasing the band at its finest.

The staunch country of “The Wilderness” is full of Gram Parsons-inspired songwriting and arrangements (due in no small part to Hillman’s presence), though the slower, more wistful songs of Manassas’s second side certainly have an open-range beauty the band can call its own. “Consider” also has its moments, with the raga-inspired jaunt of Byrds outtake “Bound to Fall” and the winning Stills-Hillman collaboration “It Doesn’t Matter.”

The band stretches out on the album’s fourth side, and it’s there that Stills gets his Hendrix-inspired ya-ya’s out: “The Treasure” is over eight minutes of guitar jams and blues machismo, and somehow succeeds at being epic without going over the top. Bill Wyman (of The Rolling Stones) makes an appearance on “The Love Gangster,” providing some extra guitar wahs to the mix.

While this Stills project may not match his previous work in terms of star power, there is something to be said for its collaborative charm and stylistic impurity that was clearly lacking from his better-known material. Though drugs and demons would ultimately doom the band down the road, Manassas remains a stunning record that Stills contends is among the best of his career — and it’s hard to disagree.

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